"What's up with the Bookers this year?"
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Jenny (GCPLreader) posed this question on Donna's (Donna828's) thread last night, and I thought it was worthy of discussion here. Many people, on LT and elsewhere, have expressed surprise, and even disappointment, at the books that were selected for this year's longlist, and the reviews of several of these books have been tepid. As a result, I suspect that enthusiasm for this year's longlist, at least among those who are fond of the novels that are selected as finalists for the award, has waned. It will be interesting to see if these books have significantly better sales than longlisted books from previous years, as this year's longlist seems to have a more populist tilt.
I had mentioned on Donna's thread that there were several books that weren't selected for the longlist that I'm far more eager to read than those which were selected, but my "inner completist" (again, stealing Laura's phrase) is pushing me to complete the longlist this year.
I'm planning to read several books that have been mentioned as possible longlist candidates over the next couple of months:
River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh (I bought this ahead of time, as I was sure it would make the longlist; it's the sequel to his shortlisted novel Sea of Poppies)
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (I'll probably start this on Friday, as he will be speaking at the British Museum next week)
Waterline by Ross Raisin (I loved his debut novel God's Own Country, which was released as Out Backwards in the US)
Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka
Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones (the sequel to Pilcrow)
Anatomy of a Disappearance by Hisham Matar
So, what do you think? Are you disappointed by this year's longlist? Are there books that you've read, or are planning to read, that should have made the longlist?
Personally, I'm not disappointed with the this years longlist. I've only read Sisters Brothers - which I loved , and Far To Go which I enjoyed - though I don't see it as booker worthy. I've got Pigeon Englishin my TBR read pile. Until I've read more of the longlisted books, I'll have to reserve judgement . I've got three more Longlisted Bookers on order. Perhaps what has been most challenging is that many of the Long Listed Bookers have not been easily available in North America.
I do have this link which if you look more deeply into it - has snippets of reviews behind each booker longlist -and has a score for each book- which I think that they change as reviews come in.
To be honest, a populist tilt is not a bad thing, in my opinion .
There's not much on the 2011 Booker long list that I've added to my wish list, and that is unusual. The only one I've read is Jamrach's Menagerie, and the only ones I'm likely to pick up are The Sense of an Ending, The Stranger's Child, and possibly The Last Hundred Days. Those on your alternate list look much more appealing and "booker-ish," in the usual sense of the term. I'm not sure if Jane Harris's Gillespie and I was released by the deadline, but if it was, it's definitely a book that shouldn't have been omitted.
I'm wondering why this change has come about. Perhaps it goes back to Wolf Hall: there was a lot of buzz about a historical novel winning the Booker. Or perhaps those in charge thought the prize list was becoming too effete, since few of the books ended up being huge best sellers. Is the kind of "dumbing down" we're seeing in reading assignments in our high schools starting to affect the Booker? I'm talking about schools where books like Huckleberry Finn are no longer taught and kids are praised for reading comic books and graphic novels because at least they are reading. Don't get me wrong--some of those are very provocative and clever, but they aren't great literature. Again, some of the longlisted books may be perfectly enjoyable reads--but are they really literary, and do they meet up to the standards we expect of a Booker nominee? Are they doing something original in terms of style as well as plot, and will they be books worth keeping on the shelf, rereading, teaching in a college class, etc.?
2> Thanks for the link. It looks like the critics are happy with all but two of the choices, Half Blood Blues and A Cupboard Full of Coats.
I guess the main reason I think the populist tilt isn't such a great move is that there are already plenty of other prizes that lean in that direction and few that single out more literary books as the Booker has in the past.
I was really disappointed not to see The Cat's Table nominated, and I'm looking forward to reading Gillespie and I, There But For The by Ali Smith, The Afterparty by Leo Benedictus, and The London Train by Tessa Hadley (I know you didn't really like this one, Darryl).
I'm another who doesn't like the populist tilt - there are genre awards galore, and other prizes where public vote determines the winner, but the Booker is about literary fiction, and that is exactly why I follow it. I've been introduced to great writer over the past two years - A.S. Byatt, Sarah Waters, Colm Toibin, Simon Mawer, Lisa Moore, David Mitchell, Damon Galgut, Andrea Levy - and I am looking forward to delving into their bibliographies. This is what I have come to expect from the Booker. It's not that I think I am going to love every single book on the longlist, but I think I should at least understand why they were chosen.
So far this year, I'm not really sure why three of the four I have read made the longlist. Far to Go is a good story, but not really out of the ordinary, Snowdrops I found great in writing but lacking in substance, The Sisters Brothers was annoyingly cute, and only Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending impressed me. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.
I've got The Stranger's Child on the way, and A Cupboard Full of Coats. I was looking at some of the Booker's long/short list and actual prizes in the past - and I'm not sure I was so impressed with some of the books that I read. I really enjoyedWhite Tiger , a Booker Winner -but I thought it was quite interesting and humourous too. Short listed bookers that I have read include Room which I found to be quite a simple book and I was most unimpressed. Long Song I really enjoyed - again, a popular sort of a book. The Stone Diaries was very good - but not out of this world. I really disliked A Thousand Autumns and The Bookshop was just meh.
So I can't say I'm disappointed in these years choices - at least not until I've read a more of this years Booker's.
My question is about how this books will age and stand the test of time. Will they still be important or interesting in ten, twenty or fifty years?
I'm another who doesn't like the populist tilt - there are genre awards galore, and other prizes where public vote determines the winner, but the Booker is about literary fiction, and that is exactly why I follow it.
Cait's comments in this paragraph express my opinion exactly. Although, as Deb said, it's still early and I reserve the right to change my view of this year's longlist as I read more of the books, I am disappointed by the populist tilt this year, and I fervently hope that this doesn't imply a permanent shift away from quality literary fiction.
Several critics and columnists have commented about the 2011 judges, noting that four of them are best known for writing thrillers, and that only one, Gaby Wood, was a "traditional highbrow choice". Of course, it doesn't necessarily follow that writers of thrillers, mysteries or other genre novels are incapable of appreciating literary fiction, but it does seem to me that several novels of high literary merit were excluded from this year's longlist, in favor of ones that are solid but not spectacular.
ETA: I agree with Joyce's comment in message #6. I think that Wolf Hall, The Remains of the Day and The Siege of Krishnapur will be as highly regarded in the future as they are now, but I doubt that The White Tiger, The Gathering or The Finkler Question will continue to be widely read.
I think it was Cait who posted an article last week or so about this year's Booker longlist being something of a "Best of..." in different genres. If work slows down, I'll go find the link - unless someone else wants to ;)
The article rang pretty true, though I am only on my second of the longlisted works and should reserve judgement... but where's the fun in that?
Yes, Katie, it was that article about "Best of..." that caught my interest, too. I just want true (genreless) literary fiction. I suspect that the Hollinghurst and the Barnes may meet my expectations, just wish they'd hurry up and come in stateside!
Here's the link.
Many of you may already have seen it, as I forgot Cait posted it in the Booker group. But maybe it escaped the notice of a few...
6> Exactly what I was asking, Joyce: Again, some of the longlisted books may be perfectly enjoyable reads--but are they really literary, and do they meet up to the standards we expect of a Booker nominee? Are they doing something original in terms of style as well as plot, and will they be books worth keeping on the shelf, rereading, teaching in a college class, etc.?
Of course, not all of the past Booker winners meet that criteria--but I suspect a lot more of them will than this year's list.
11- Yes! Unless, of course, we're all just stuck in a rut, and can't see the future of literature. Maybe one of these books is actually groundbreaking, and we don't recognize it? (asked by someone who hasn't read any of the books).
When I look at the list of past winners, I find something interesting. Since the winners from the late 80s onward, the books all still get a fair amount of discussion here at LT. Of the earlier winners, however, there are only a few that I still see people reading and talking about, and some of the titles are a complete blank to me. Not only are LTers not reading them, they're not showing up on "best of . . . " lists either. So perhaps not that much has changed?
Look at the list of winners and nominees up to the early 80s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booker_Prize_winners
Up to 1983, of all the books listed, I've read four, own a handful, and have heard of a dozen or so other. The rest are completely unknown to me. Now, I don't pretend to be a literary doyen, but compared to most people I know I'm fairly well read. 1977-- I can't remember ever hearing about any of these books before!
Who knows? In 30 years maybe people will look back on these years--not just 2011--and wonder what all these books were about and who was reading them.
Having read seven of these, I think that 3-4 are worthy of the short-list, and 1-2 are innovative and worthy of the title 'groundbreaking'.
I have never taken on the task of reading the full long-list before, but I do believe that innovation, literary genius and market appeal need to intersect as best possible in the current reading climate.
Truthfully I have despaired at some of the more recent Booker choices which have been dismal sellers and frankly just totally unappealing to me.
you really must read some Barbara Pym, aah, so many books, so little time! I think I have one of hers in Mnt TBR somewhere, so she's on the horizon.
Nickelini - I was thinking about what you said as far as not knowing what literature really is until 30 years later. I think that could be very true. If memory serves me - people like Dickens were not well regared in their time -but - as time went on, we realized that Dickens wrote classics. I'm sure that's true of many now classic writers. BTW Joyce - Barabara Pym is a good read! I've only read one of her books Excellent Women and I really enjoyed it. She's another who was not really recognized in her time -but while I cannot say whether her books are literary classics, I have read that she was a very overlooked writer in her time. She tackles subjects like single women, homosexuality in a gentle way. Read my review of Excellent Women if you trust my opinion! ;)
Deb - Excellent Women has been in my TBR pile for ages, but there are just too many books and too little time! One day I'll get to it.
I've read 20 of the pre-83 Bookers, and of them I'd highly recommend:
The White Hotel
The Clear Light of Day
Confederates (An Australian writing about the U.S. Civil War, but v.v. good)
Quartet in Autumn
Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
I'd also unhesitatingly recommend:
Rites of Passage
The Sea, The Sea
Staying On (which as I recall Daryl didn't like, but which I loved)
Heat and Dust
The Siege of Krishnapur
Hmm--I've just noticed that a number of these books are about India--This must have been when I was reading lots on that subject.
From 1983-2003, I've read 40+ of the long list books, and will be happy to recommend my favorites if any one is interested.
I never made a specific effort to read Bookers, though after I heard of it I would use the lists to find books that interested me. Over the past several years, I've read fewer and fewer Bookers--many of the titles just don't appeal to me. Of this year's books, I know I will be reading Jamrach's Menagerie, but not yet sure about any others.
I've read eight of the pre-1983 Booker longlisted novels, and these are my favorites:
The Elected Member (1970 winner)
Troubles (1970 Lost Man Booker Prize winner)
The Siege of Krishnapur (1973 winner)
Midnight's Children (1981 winner)
The Comfort of Strangers (1981 longlist)
I've read ~65 longlisted books from 1983-2011, and most of these were written in 2007 (the first year that I traveled to London and began to follow the prize in earnest) or later.
THanks the spirit, Darryl. Go to London to get the Booker books. Perhaps I can justify that idea to my hubbie!!
I've read 8 of the pre-1983 longlist books too - my favourites from those years could not be more different: Midnight's Children and A Month in the Country. For many of the other pre-1983 books, I've read others by the authors but not the listed one(s), and some are on my wishlist.
I've never consciously sought out books to read because they are Booker winners or nominees, and certainly have never been trying to read the longlist in advance of the winner being announced - but looking back at the list, I've read at least one of the nominated books most years since the early 80s when I reached adulthood - sometimes in the year or two following the prize, sometimes much later, as many of these books tend to be readily available second-hand and in libraries.
How many of them will still be being read in another 30 or 100 years time is not easy to predict - and if it turns out that they do have such staying power, does that mean that the judges have made the wrong choice? Could there be books that touch a nerve and speak strongly and well to a particular generation, but which do not continue to appeal to subsequent generations? (I'm not thinking about any of this year's list, since I've not yet read any of those.)
How many of them will still be being read in another 30 or 100 years time is not easy to predict - and if it turns out that they do have such staying power, does that mean that the judges have made the wrong choice? Could there be books that touch a nerve and speak strongly and well to a particular generation, but which do not continue to appeal to subsequent generations?
Interesting comment, Genny.
I looked to see what pre 1983 long or shortlisted Booker's that I had read -and only one pppped up
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald1977. I have to say it did not interest me much.
I've gotAutumn Quartet by Barbara Pym 1978 on order, because I so enjoyed her book, Excellent Women.
I've read 24 from the shortlist (including winners) from 1983 and earlier. There are some that just didn't work for me AT ALL (G, In a Free State), but also some gems:
- The Elected Member (1970 winner)
- Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971 shortlist)
- Quartet in Autumn (1977 shortlist)
- A Month in the Country (1980 shortlist)
- The Comfort of Strangers (1981 shortlist)
- Anything by Iris Murdoch (she was shortlisted 5 times)
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